Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

Appalachian Voices marches for science

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne
Two scientists - who shall apparently remain anonymous - share their feelings at the March for Science in D.C.

Two scientists – who shall apparently remain anonymous – share their feelings at the March for Science in D.C.

This year, Earth Day became a celebration of science as hundreds of thousands of people gathered in our nation’s capitol and at sister sites around the world to March for Science.

Washington, D.C.

Despite the rain on Saturday, the mood at the Washington, D.C., march was “very optimistic and aspirational,” according to Appalachian Voices’ own IT specialist, Jeff Deal. “People were really coming out and standing up for the world they wanted to live in, instead of the one we now find ourselves in.”

Appalachian Voices was a sponsor of the D.C. event, and one of the main reasons Jeff says he joined the march was to help keep up the momentum that started with the Women’s March in January and will no doubt continue with the People’s Climate March this Saturday, and beyond.

“While it’s great to have these single impactful moments,” Jeff says, “I think they mean more when you connect them in a series of peaceful, organized protests.”

Matt Wasson, our director of programs, was also marching at the capitol, and he marveled at the need for the gathering.

“Being a scientist, and seeing science get abused in the political arena in recent years, it used to be that everyone was on the side of science, and that’s just not the case anymore. And it’s so frustrating,” Matt says. “Just logically, why would you not be on the side of science?”

“We’re living in a different place now, where people do have to speak up for things,” says Sandra Diaz, our former North Carolina field coordinator, who was also there.

She noted the historic nature of such a gathering of scientists, who generally aren’t known for collective, political action. “People I talked to said [their research] can’t end [in scientific publications]. … They need to be out there, having those conversations, trying to make science more understandable and more accessible to the average person.”

“We all depend on science so fundamentally, for our health and well-being and economic well-being,” says Matt. “So I think it was important, honestly, for everyone to be there. And I’m proud that Appalachian Voices rose to the occasion to be there.”

AppVoices Marches for Science
Click to access Flickr album for more photos.


In downtown Charlottesville, more than 500 people turned out at the IX Art Park for a local “March for Science” sponsored by Cville CommUNIty. Appalachian Voices’ communications director was there with information about the proposed fracked-gas pipelines and petitions to Virginia’s governor to cut carbon pollution.

“At 1:30 when the rally started I was talking with a woman about what a bad idea these pipelines are, and I didn’t stop talking to people for two hours,” Cat McCue says. “People were really interested in this issue.”

She said several people understood that the facts of the pipelines — the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley — don’t make any sense for the climate, for the environment, or for the local communities that would be directly impacted.

“It was refreshing to hear people discussing factual evidence rather than political hyperbole.”

North Carolina

In Asheville, two members of the Appalachian Voices team tabled amid a sea of people: Molly Moore, the editor of The Appalachian Voice newspaper, and Meredith Shelton, our operations and outreach coordinator. More than 2,000 people attended the march and rally downtown, and scores of concerned citizens stopped by our table to share their thoughts and learn more about our work.

“It was wonderful to speak with people of all ages who want to see policy decisions that are based on sound science, and are willing to speak up and support science-based decision-making,” says Molly.

According to Meredith, “I think people were encouraged by the outpouring of support. I think they were encouraged that they were not alone. But just kind of in disbelief about everything that’s happened so fast to take down all of the regulations that we have so far.”

“I think, [with the march] being in Asheville, I had several people comment that this area was so close to their hearts. They live here, and we’re in the midst of spring blooming around them. People had tears in their eyes for their love of this region,” says Meredith.

Nick Wood, our North Carolina field organizer, made sure Appalachian Voices was represented at the march in Raleigh, as well.

Did you March for Science? Tell us about where you marched and why in the comments.

Who Profits from the Pipelines?

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Utility giants such as Dominion Energy and Duke Energy explain their interest in building new pipelines by pointing to their need for more natural gas to replace retiring coal plants.

But one doesn’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find another explanation.

“The way the regulatory system is set up at the moment,” says Lorne Stockman, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, “companies are incentivized to build new infrastructure and create over-capacity.”

Oil Change International is a research and communications group that advocates for the switch to renewables while highlighting the true costs of fossil fuels. The group has produced several recent reports that help put the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines in context.

“It comes down to what makes the most money for the companies involved, and the regulatory system is not set up to reward Dominion and Duke for efficiency savings,” says Stockman. In other parts of the country, such as Massachusetts, incentives are more climate-friendly. “[The regulatory system there] doesn’t reward them for load growth or increasing generation, but they are rewarded for improving efficiency.”

While the corporations stand to benefit from tax breaks and are assured a profit, the environmental and safety risks of the pipelines will be absorbed by the communities they pass through and by everyone affected by the rapidly changing climate.

“Everyone’s vying to get their project in because they know the industry is overbuilding. And everyone wants their pipeline committed as soon as possible.”

Are these projects needed?

Even if more natural gas is needed to replace retiring coal-fired plants, as many industry experts argue, does that mean that we need more pipeline construction?

It’s hard to make that case when so much capacity in existing pipelines is going unused.

Pipeline developers must demonstrate to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that they have customers for the gas and thereby show a need for the natural gas being shipped. For both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, the vast majority of the gas will be sold to subsidiaries of the parent companies building the pipelines.
“In situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline,” according to a recent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Won’t the pipelines create jobs?

For some, the promise of new jobs is a major selling point of the pipeline projects. But any large-scale employment during construction is short-lived, and these jobs may or may not go to local residents who need them.

Projected long-term employment numbers for operating the pipelines and compressor stations are significantly lower than during the construction phase.

Compare this with jobs in the solar sector: employment in Virginia is strong, North Carolina is booming and West Virginia has a lot of room for growth.

Why the rush to build the pipelines?

The companies building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines stand to profit from these infrastructure projects. When granting permits, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guarantees the companies building the pipelines a profit by authorizing them to adjust their rates on transporting gas. At the same time, the partnerships financing the pipelines — such as Dominion Midstream Partners, which has indirect ownership of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and EQT Midstream Partners, a lead partner in the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, are not required to pay federal taxes.

According to the New York Times, Duke has paid no total income tax between 2008 and 2015. Guaranteed profits and low tax rates are just two of the benefits the tax codes grant companies in the energy sector.

How would pipelines affect the climate?

Under the previous administration, the United States worked with other nations to set a path toward limiting the severity of climate change, first in Copenhagen and later in Paris.

The United States proposed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions significantly over the coming two decades. Toward that end, the Obama administration issued standards that would have cut methane emissions nearly in half.

Over a 20-year timeframe, methane is nearly 86 times more powerful as a warming agent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. One of the major sources of methane emissions is the production of natural gas.

A recent study by Oil Change International indicates that if current projections hold true, the United States would exceed its entire greenhouse gas targets just through its dependence on natural gas, and particularly from the boom in production from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. This ominous forecast included the Obama administration’s reduction in methane emissions — which Congress and President Trump have since overturned. That means that methane emissions from gas production are projected to exceed the country’s entire allotment for greenhouse gases even sooner.

Energy needs can be met with existing pipelines coming out of the Appalachian Basin. But as companies rush to extract more natural gas, the overall capacity could soon be reached. According to the study, “If no new takeaway capacity is built, production of around 116 trillion cubic feet of potential gas production from now through 2050 would be avoided.”

natural gas ghg

Reversing Climate Change Policies

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Elizabeth E. Payne

On March 28, President Trump signed an executive order reversing much of the progress President Obama made towards addressing the realities of climate change. With this action, Trump ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to abandon the Clean Power Plan, reopened federal lands for coal mining and eliminated the requirement that federal agencies consider climate impacts in their decision-making.

The Clean Power Plan would have limited the carbon dioxide emissions permitted from coal-fired power plants. But the regulation was held up in court and never enacted.
Trump was surrounded by coal miners when he signed the order and said the change would put miners back to work.

But increased dependence on natural gas and mechanization of the industry, not the unenforced regulation, has led to the loss in coal jobs, according to a number of experts such as Michael E. Webber, the deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas.

Even Trump supporters doubt how much this can help. “I really don’t know how far the coal industry can be brought back,” said Robert E. Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy, after the signing.

The executive order did not comment on the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate agreement signed in August 2016. But the new steps outlined in the order made clear that the current administration has abandoned efforts to meet those emission reduction targets.

The Paris agreement set a goal for keeping the rise in global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius, the level at which some of the most disastrous impacts of climate change would take effect.

Cutting carbon pollution in Virginia: Governor McAuliffe should finish what he started

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson
In his final year in office, Governor McAuliffe can cement a powerful legacy on climate and on the economy by doing what the new White House won’t.

In his final year in office, Governor McAuliffe can cement a powerful legacy on climate and on the economy by doing what the new White House won’t.

30×30! Take action now to cut carbon pollution 30% x 2030!

A Brief History of Executive Order 57

A year ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting the Department of Environmental Quality from spending money on state compliance with the Clean Power Plan while legal challenges to that federal regulation were pending. So in June 2016, Governor McAuliffe issued Executive Order 57, which convened a work group “to study and recommend methods to reduce carbon emissions from electric power generation facilities,” including state-level carbon regulation.

Then Donald Trump became president. Realizing that the new administration would take steps to reverse and, eventually, bury the Clean Power Plan, state-level climate action became more urgent than ever. The result of Governor McAuliffe’s EO57 process will be his climate legacy — the ball is squarely in his court.

The Best Ways to Reduce CO2? Efficiency and Renewables

The two best methods for reducing carbon emissions from power plants are straightforward: energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Energy efficiency measures are the low-hanging fruit of climate action. Utility-led energy efficiency programs are the cheapest energy resource — after all, it’s far cheaper to reduce demand than to build new power plants. These cost savings benefit utilities but, more importantly, they benefit customers, especially those who might struggle to afford their monthly bills.

Weatherization and other efficiency upgrades also increase comfort in the home and reduce costs for businesses, spurring job creation. In fact, the energy efficiency industry directly employs 2.2 million Americans and indirectly creates several times as many jobs.

When new power generation is necessary — preferably to replace fossil fuel-fired plants — zero-carbon resources like solar and wind should be deployed. The public health benefits are quite obvious: aside from mitigating climate impacts, zero-emission power also means we avoid breathing the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and other harmful byproducts of fossil generation.

Renewable energy resources also have the potential to save customers money and create a lot of jobs. Even under conservative projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind will be the cheapest type of generation to build over the next five years, and utility-scale solar can be cheaper than a combined cycle gas plant under the right circumstances. The cost of solar installation has dropped 60 percent over the past 10 years, and the U.S. solar industry employs more than 260,000 people, with an additional 100,000 jobs expected to be added in the next four years.

Unfortunately, Virginia lags far behind in installed solar capacity and jobs. In 2016, our neighbor North Carolina employed 7,112 people in its solar industry, while Virginia only put 3,236 people to work in solar.

The Governor Can Regulate CO2 and Create a New Energy Economy

Virginia’s power sector is in dire need of an incentive to ramp up energy efficiency programs and commit to renewables for any new electricity generation. Nearly 30 states including North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania have mandatory “renewable portfolio standards,” which require a minimum amount of renewables in the electricity mix; Virginia does not. Virginia’s largest electric utility, Dominion, designed several options in its 2016 resource plan that would have added considerable new solar capacity, but those plans all assumed that a federal Clean Power Plan would be implemented.

With a regulation capping carbon emissions from power plants, the McAuliffe administration can provide that incentive. The Department of Environmental Quality can use its authority under Virginia law to cap carbon pollution from new and existing power plants to achieve similar results to the federal Clean Power Plan, and the power sector can comply rather painlessly.

In his final year in office, Governor McAuliffe can cement a powerful legacy on climate and on the economy by doing what the new White House won’t. States must now lead the way on environmental protection and climate action. Let’s hope the governor continues to show the leadership he displayed when he signed Executive Order 57 last year.

Tell the governor you want a rule to reduce carbon pollution 30 percent by 2030!

Students speak out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Why collaborative resistance matters

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 - posted by guestbloggers

By Cassidy Quillen and Olivia Nelson

Photos by Greg Yost.

Photos by Greg Yost.

We arrived in the early evening, three days before the Walk to Protect our People and the Places we Live finished. The walkers were circled up, weary yet excited, going over highlights from the day’s route and the breakdown for the evening. That night we were sleeping in a church community center, sleeping bags already lined up on the floor and Seeds of Peace East preparing dinner for the 40 or so people staying that night. Not many people are even sure what day it is or how long they’ve been walking – we found out later most stayed six or more days – but they’re excited about vegan shepherd’s pie and attending the teaching event hosted by the Lumberton community that evening.

On a broad level, Divest Appalachian traveled to Robeson County, N.C., and walked because we know that we need everyone mobilizing in this political movement to halt the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. With President Trump’s push to expedite oil and gas pipelines, and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline listed as a top priority infrastructure project, there is no room for neutrality or complacency. Everyone at the action reflected similar values. The walkers came from across North Carolina, and ranged from students to retirees, united to get the message across that this pipeline is not wanted by the people of North Carolina.

Zooming in a bit more, it’s not hard to recognize that the people who would be impacted most by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have faced a long history of exploitation by extractive industries: African-Americans, Native Americans and low-income citizens. Lumberton has historically been home to people of color and is considered tribal land to the Lumbee — a Native American tribe not federally recognized, overriding their sovereignty and ability to block the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. To walk for someone else’s rights is to listen to and represent their community’s values, as well as their history. One of the foundations of the walk was getting involved with local organizers such as Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action.

Legerton led events that got both the walkers and local people involved in speaking out against the pipeline from a mutual point of understanding. One such event was a community teach-in. A series of speakers, including academics and representatives of the Lumbee American Indian Nation, spoke on how the natural gas will not be used in the counties the pipeline runs through, is not needed to meet demand, and how to stay involved once the walkers went home. We know, as students of sustainability, that the gas that would flow through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed and would not be coming from North Carolina, nor would it serve those along the route. This teach-in brought valuable information and examples of the dangerous effects of pipelines on the communities they divide. Once we peel back that layer, we are left with racist, profit-driven industry policies that are wholly unacceptable.

Focusing in on western North Carolina highlights Duke Energy’s monopolizing power across the state; the proposed pipeline would cause utility rate hikes statewide. Several of the students who traveled from Boone have families and homes in proximity to the route of the proposed pipeline. As Divest Appalachian and Boone Rising handed out information about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at Appalachian State University leading up to the walk, we discovered that many students on campus did not even know that the pipeline proposal exists, nor that it would impact their families in a variety of environmental and economic ways. How many people have connections to the land, history and loved ones that live along the proposed pipeline route, yet do not even know what’s coming their way?

Finally, we look at the place Divest Appalachian’s students call home: Appalachian State University. According to the UNCMC 2015 Annual Report, our school system has $236.8 million of assets invested in energy and natural resources — an “asset class comprised of investment managers that purchase oil, natural gas, power, and other commodity-related investments.” What this means is that Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina school system are actively promoting and profiting off of the struggle and oppression in Standing Rock. It means that our institutions are advancing the move to put communities in eastern North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia in danger from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In the face of a Trump presidency that threatens the stability of life on this planet, there is no room for neutrality in leadership at this university on the issue of climate change.

Divest Appalachian will continue building power on our campus this spring to show our school’s administration that it too can lead alongside universities, colleges and entire cities that have divested from fossil fuel industries and reinvested in solutions to the climate crisis. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be on our home soil, and we will not stand for an institution that touts an ideology of sustainability while profiting off industries driving climate change. We do this to protect our water, our air, our soil and our people right now. This pipeline is messy, it’s dangerous and it’s unnecessary. By laying these pipes, our state and our nation are telling us whose lives are more valuable, and who they can afford to lose. Watching extractive industries divide and conquer the communities we call home is not acceptable. From Standing Rock to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, people are standing up against injustice and destruction, but we need everyone to rise up from the trajectory we’re currently on.

There are many ways to get involved in blocking pipelines; call your elected officials, and learn more about pipelines and development projects in your state. It can even be as easy as finding local organizers to step into your community, such as Divest Appalachian, Boone Rising and Appalachian Voices.

Links to more resources:
Boone Rising on Facebook
Divest Appalachian
Divest Appalachian on Facebook
The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition on Facebook

White House budget leaves Appalachia in the dust

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 - posted by thom
The White House's budget won't become law, but it should alarm people across the country — and perhaps especially people in Appalachia.

The White House’s budget won’t become law, but it should alarm people across the country — and perhaps especially people in Appalachia.

The White House released its budget blueprint last week, and the proposal is nothing short of a disaster for Appalachia and rural communities across the country. The Trump administration will release a more complete budget request in May, but we have a lot of information to go on already.

Congress, not the president, holds America’s purse strings, so the majority of the White House budget proposal will never become a reality. But the “skinny budget” still reveals a great deal about where Appalachian communities fall on the administration’s list of priorities.

First, let’s look at a few agencies and programs the White House wants to completely eliminate:

Appalachian Regional Commission – For more than 50 years, the ARC has provided funding for projects throughout the region to create economic opportunities and improve critical infrastructure. ARC funding and assistance has created an entire highway system, and introduced broadband, all while supporting local and sustainable projects like all of these. Recently, ARC has improved efforts to build leadership and community participation. Republican leaders from Kentucky, most notably Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-5), have successfully increased annual funding for the ARC in the past four years from about $60 million to over $120 million.

Economic Development Administration: The only federal agency focused entirely on economic development, the EDA promotes innovation and competitiveness in regions in need. The EDA has a crucial role in the diversification of Appalachia’s economy, as well as communities throughout the country coming together and seeking ways to overcome the downturn in the coal industry.

Weatherization Assistance Program and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: While the programs are quite different, they work in tandem to help low-income families reduce their energy bills. Energy efficiency and weatherization can greatly improve Americans’ health and quality of life, save money, and improve the value of homes. But without assistance, many low-income families cannot afford to make the necessary home improvements to achieve these benefits. Housing in Appalachian is among the least efficient in the country, and these two programs are needed to change that fact.

Abandoned Mine Lands: In response to widespread support from Appalachian local governments for ideas outlined in the Obama administration’s POWER+ Plan, Rep. Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last year carved out money for a pilot program to repurpose Abandoned Mine Lands for economic development projects. The program sent $30 million each to Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania for projects on previously mined sites. While the pilot program was never intended to continue indefinitely, Congress plans to continue funding it for one more year, this time including funds for Virginia, Ohio and Alabama.

We haven’t even gotten to the big cuts yet. You might have noticed I been buried the lead, and that’s mostly because it’s been widely reported since rumors started to emerge about a month ago.

Environmental Protection Agency: The White House wants to slash the agency’s budget by 31 percent. The EPA is America’s best defense against air and water pollution. Appalachian Voices has long worked to hold the EPA accountable for its shortcomings, but we should not for a moment overlook the immeasurable benefits the thousands of EPA employees have had on all of our lives. Before the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act were passed to provide us with the protections we now enjoy, we were racing down a dangerous path of pollution. The challenges have only gotten greater in the past 40 years, but we live in a stronger, healthier, more sustainable world because of the EPA. Hampering the agency’s ability to carry out its job is unacceptable.

Climate change programs: The official position of the White House Office of Management and Budget is that climate programs are a “waste of your money.” If you believe that climate change is a hoax, then I suppose that makes sense. On the other hand, if you agree with the rest of the world and recognize that an urgent and effective response to this global crisis is long overdue, then this is more than just crazy talk — it’s catastrophic thinking.

Everything else: The White House budget also eliminates the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. These are not uniquely relevant to Appalachia, but the region is hardly unaffected by cutting these types of programs. Despite what the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seems to think, eliminating funding for things like PBS is not a favor to coal miners or anyone else in West Virginia. Mulvaney indicated that people in Appalachia have no use for PBS, NPR, or the arts, and maybe that just tells us what he thinks of those programs. Then again, maybe it tells us more about what he thinks of people in Appalachia.

It bears repeating that Congress has control of the budget and none of these proposals have become law. We are confident that most of the programs will continue to be funded at or near current levels for the near future. But the budget is the clearest, most comprehensive picture we have of the dangerous direction in which President Trump wants to take the country. And it’s a call to arms for everyone to protect successful programs that Americans support and benefit from every day.

FERC’s pipeline review process is broken

Monday, February 20th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson

Former chairman adds his voice to public demands for greater scrutiny

As new research refutes industry's pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

As new research refutes industry’s pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

Sign the petition to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today!

It’s no secret: oil and gas pipelines have captured the nation’s attention, not to mention the new administration’s. Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to put water protection, indigenous rights and environmental justice at the fore of any pipeline discussion. And not so long ago, the Keystone XL pipeline came to symbolize the United States’ willingness to lead (or not) on climate action. Now the Trump administration hopes to revive both.

The Trump administration also hopes to push through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from the Marcellus Shale in northern West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. A list of the administration’s top 50 infrastructure priorities leaked in January includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at number 20. The document reports the pipeline’s permitting process as “done,” despite the fact that comment periods for some federal and state permits are currently open and no permits have been issued. How’s that for alternative facts?

Pipelines not needed

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with primary authority for permitting interstate gas pipelines, was generally viewed as pipeline-friendly even prior to the Trump era. The agency allows a 14 percent rate of return on investments in pipeline capital, and its environmental reviews typically fall short in analyzing both the need for additional pipelines and the projected climate impacts of new projects (in addition to many other deficiencies).

However, former FERC Chairman Norman Bay offered a surprising call for reform of the agency’s pipeline certificate process when he stepped away at the beginning of February (see the last six pages of this FERC order). Bay criticized the method FERC uses to determine whether or not there is a need for a pipeline. He pointed out that FERC usually looks to precedent agreements between pipeline owners and gas shippers as evidence of need. But this method is flawed.

According to Bay, “focusing on precedent agreements may not take into account a variety of other considerations, including … whether the precedent agreements are largely signed by affiliates.”

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In other words, a company applying to build a new pipeline says, “Look, we have subscribers lined up to buy gas from the pipeline, so there must be a need for it.” But a closer examination reveals that the buyer and the seller are both affiliates of the same parent corporation.

This echoes a concern highlighted in a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in April 2016. That report found that “in situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline.”

This report studied the risks of building both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile gas pipeline that would also cut through the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Virginia. It pointed out that for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, five of the six companies contracted to buy gas are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline. Energy behemoths Dominion Resources and Duke Energy have a combined 85 percent ownership stake in the pipeline, and their subsidiary companies have subscribed to 86 percent of the gas shipped. For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, all six of the buyers are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline.

Another report, published in September 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., studied conservative estimates of future gas demand in Virginia and the Carolinas. It concluded that, even under scenarios where gas use for electricity production is high, existing pipelines have more than enough capacity to provide energy to the region. That is, we can keep the lights on and businesses thriving without ever building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Climate impacts of gas pipelines

In addition to the needs analysis, Bay also called on FERC to reform its evaluation of climate impacts. In its draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC refused to consider that the pipeline would spur more gas production, enabling more methane leakage along the entire supply chain. Without quantifying them, FERC compared downstream smokestack emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that the pipeline’s emissions would merely be a drop in the bucket.

In its draft environmental review for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC did attempt a rough calculation of downstream emissions but again refused to analyze upstream effects or methane leakage. FERC’s review stated that emissions from burning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas would be roughly 29 million metric tons (MMt) per year.

A new briefing published by Oil Change International puts a comparable number on emissions from gas combustion for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, estimating 31 MMt annually. But when you add increased gas production and methane leakage along the supply chain, total emissions more than double, reaching nearly 68 MMt per year. The organization also published a briefing for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, estimating total life-cycle emissions at nearly 90 MMt annually.

To put that in perspective, emissions from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the rough equivalent of adding 20 coal-fired power plants to the grid or putting 14 million more cars on the road. Emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be like adding 26 coal-fired power plants or putting 19 million more cars on the road.

While Norman Bay defended FERC’s existing climate analysis methods from a legal perspective, he also argued for change. He stated that “in the interests of good government” the agency should analyze downstream impacts and perform lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from pipelines — but from the entire Marcellus and Utica gas production region.

Other environmental impacts

Besides bludgeoning our atmosphere with huge amounts of new greenhouse gas pollution, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines would, of course, threaten thousands of groundwater sources, surface streams and wetlands. Constructing the pipelines would force the permanent removal of trees along their routes, fragmenting habitats and spoiling views from the Appalachian Trail. The projects would threaten human health and safety, especially near powerful compressor stations used to pump gas along the line. They would disproportionately impact lower-income communities, communities of color and Native American communities, threatening important historic and cultural resources.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, Bay did not follow his own advice and revise the way FERC analyzes pipeline need or climate impacts while he led the agency. But here’s how you can do your part:

Mountain Valley Pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

The “Fox Guarding the Henhouse” cabinet

Monday, January 16th, 2017 - posted by molly

BREAKING: Scott Pruitt’s confirmation vote to head the EPA goes to the Senate on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

Call your senators today to reject Trump’s energy and environment picks!

>> Find your senators’ direct numbers here.
>> Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121

Given President-elect Trump’s fossil-fuel-friendly philosophy and dismissive position toward climate science, it’s no surprise that many of his Cabinet appointees take positions that threaten public health, air and water quality, and our natural heritage, and that accelerate climate change.

As a region with astounding biodiversity and natural assets, Appalachia has a particularly large stake in environmental protection. And with the coal industry’s track record of pollution, the environmental and health consequences of fracking, and the encroachment of fracked-gas gas pipelines, effective regulation of polluting industries in Appalachia is critical.

Appalachian Voices is joining with clean energy advocates, climate activists and public health proponents across the country in urging the Senate to stand for our health and environment and reject these nominees.

Scott Pruitt. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Scott Pruitt. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Administrator nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 18

During his stint for the past seven years as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA no less than 14 times. His goal seems to have been sinking as many federal programs as he could — ozone limits, toxic mercury controls, clean water protections, scenic protections for national parks, to name a few. The favorite target of the staunch climate-denier is anything to do with reducing greenhouse gases.

The Sierra Club has called him the “worst of the worst” of Trump’s pick for energy and environmentally related posts.

Pruitt’s aggressive agenda is driven in large measure by hefty campaign contributions and an entanglement of PACs, super PACs, trade and professional associations and other financial influencing from fossil fuel players — familiar names to our readers, like Koch Industries and Murray Energy. As he heads to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for his hearing on Wednesday, Senate Democrats and others are pressing various ethics officials to opine on his ability to head the agency.

So egregious have Pruitt’s actions been in the past that the head of Oklahoma’s environment agency retired in frustration under his leadership, and the for the first time in its 50-year history, Environmental Defense Fund is opposing the nomination. Said William K. Reilly, a Republican who headed the EPA, in an interview with Yale Environment 360: “For a prospective EPA administrator to doubt or even contest a conclusion that 11 national academies of science have embraced is willful political obstruction. Science is the secular religion underlying everything EPA does, and one who cannot rely on it, or is determinedly contemptuous of it, cannot effectively lead the agency or serve as the country’s environmental conscience, which is EPA’s unique mission.”

Clean energy advocates, climate activists and others around the country are urging senators to reject Pruitt. NextGen is airing a TV spot in D.C. and seven states, including Virginia and Tennessee.

Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.

Wilbur Ross. Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.

Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 18

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has a history of disregarding protections for workers, communities and the environment in Central Appalachia. During his tenure as president of International Coal Group from 2004 until 2011, Appalachian Voices caught ICG falsifying federally required water pollution reports. In 2010, we identified more than 10,000 violations of the Clean Water Act committed by ICG between 2008 and 2009, and in 2011 we found an additional 4,000 violations that occurred in the first three months of 2011. Read more about the legal case.

False reporting was not the only water pollution issue at ICG mines. In 2011, the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy sued ICG for excessive discharges of selenium, a pollutant toxic to aquatic life. The discharges were ongoing for years prior to the 2011 suit, including while Ross was leading the company.

And in 2006, still under Ross’s tenure, an ICG mine was the site of one of the worst mining accidents in recent history — the Sago Mine disaster, which killed 12 miners. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that better safety practices could have prevented the disaster.

Rick Perry. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Rick Perry. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Rick Perry, Energy Secretary nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 19

Trump nominated former Texas governor, former presidential candidate and current climate denier Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy — one of the three departments that Perry suggested eliminating in 2011.

The DOE’s responsibilities include researching cutting-edge technologies like renewable power, maintaining and disposing of nuclear weapons, running national laboratories (like Oak Ridge National Laboratory in East Tennessee), managing energy efficiency standards and natural gas exports and overseeing nuclear environmental cleanup.

Perry is a clear proponent of oil, gas and coal. Until December 31, 2016, he sat on the board of two major companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, Sunoco Logistics Partners and Energy Transfer Partners. He earned $270,000 through those board appointments in 2016 alone. Natural gas drilling increased in Texas under his leadership, and Perry defended offshore oil drilling after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Yet, Texas also saw a significant jump in wind energy during Perry’s term.

“If history is prologue, it’s gonna be a pay-to-play Energy Department and a bidder’s war between the coal companies, the renewable energy companies, and the big nuclear companies,” Tom Smith, executive director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen, told Utility Dive.

It’s unclear if Perry would continue to advance scientific research into clean energy. His 2010 book called climate change a “contrived, phony mess,” despite the fact that climate change is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community. As Secretary of Energy, Perry would also oversee the agency’s role in science education. In Texas, Perry advocated for presenting creationism in classrooms alongside the scientific theory of evolution.

Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor and energy secretary under Bill Clinton, told the New York Times that Perry’s political influence could be helpful on the job. But he added a major caveat: “My concern is that Perry will get sucked in by the Trump climate deniers and try to dismantle the valuable renewable energy and climate change programs that the department manages.”

Ryan Zinke. Official congressional portrait.

Ryan Zinke. Official congressional portrait.

Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 17

A one-term Republican representative from Montana and former Navy SEAL, Ryan Zinke, is an avid hunter and fisherman.

In his one term in office, Zinke took anti-environment positions on issues including endangered species protection, oil drilling on public lands, smog standards, public input and protecting streams from mining waste, to name a few. Yet he broke that pattern to support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides grants to local, state and federal governments to acquire and maintain land for recreation and conservation.

Zinke has a mixed record when it comes to preserving public lands. When the Republican Party’s platform-writing committee agreed to support transferring federally owned land to states, Zinke stepped down from the committee in protest. Transferring federal public land to states could allow states to sell the land to developers or accelerate fossil fuel development. But on Jan. 3, Zinke voted in favor of a House rules package that encourages transferring federal land to states by changing the way the cost of these transfers would be calculated.

Rex Tillerson. Creative Commons 4.0 Official transition portrait, Office of the President-elect

Rex Tillerson. Creative Commons 4.0 Official transition portrait, Office of the President-elect

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State nominee
Confirmation hearing held Jan. 11

A longtime Exxon employee, Tillerson became CEO of Exxon Mobil in 2006 and stepped down in December 2016 after being nominated for Secretary of State. Under his leadership, the global fossil fuel giant embarked on a $720 million joint venture with a Russian firm that includes drilling in the Arctic, shale extraction and a Siberian gas export plant. Those projects were halted in 2014 by U.S. sanctions on Russian oil and gas companies, and several oil and gas industry representatives have expressed optimism that if Tillerson becomes secretary, the United States would ease Russian sanctions and accelerate these oil and gas projects.

Under Tillerson, Exxon has come under fire for funding groups that publicly denied climate science even though Exxon’s own experts have documented evidence of climate change since the 1970s. But Tillerson’s record on climate change is more complicated. In 2009, as Exxon CEO, he announced the company’s support for a tax on carbon, though no such tax was currently proposed. Congress was considering a cap-and-trade bill at the time, which Exxon lobbied against — the bill passed the House but failed to reach a Senate vote. But while Tillerson acknowledges the reality of climate science, his behavior isn’t reassuring.

“Look at the actions, not the words,” reads a statement from the Sierra Club. “Rex Tillerson’s actions make it obvious that he will willingly sacrifice a healthy climate for the sake of oil and gas.”

During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson said that “the risk of climate change does exist, and that the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” When asked if human activity is contributing to climate change, he hedged, saying that, “The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”

He also stated that climate change is not an “imminent national security threat,” which contradicts a 2015 Pentagon report that called it an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.”

Beyond these five cabinet nominees, a number of other Trump appointees are either feeble supporters of addressing climate change or are strident climate denialists. Read more from Climate Central.

Fostering Climate Resilience

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

Adaptations in Changing Times

By Eliza Laubach

Chris Oishi discusses his research in “The Electric Forest" at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. Photo by Karl Bates

Chris Oishi discusses his research in “The Electric Forest” at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. Photo by Karl Bates

Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice provide a history of the atmosphere from as far back as 400,000 years ago, and tell the story of a new geologic time emerging. The earth’s atmosphere now contains more carbon dioxide than it ever did in these ancient samples, according to NASA, namely because of the potent greenhouse gases released from burning fossil fuels.

This past April, 180 countries signed the Paris climate agreement, which lays out a strategy to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. In 2015, the Obama Administration released the Clean Power Plan, an unprecedented effort to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the United States. As of July, global temperatures are 1.03 degrees Celsius above the historic baseline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information.

Warming temperatures, driven by changes in global atmospheric circulation, are breaking records in the Southeastern U.S. The most recent decade — 2001 to 2010 — was the warmest on record, and in the past three decades the Southeast has experienced more extreme climate and weather disasters than any other region of the United States, according to a Southeast Regional Climate Assessment report. But when it comes to predicting the impacts of global climate change in Appalachia, Virginia State Climatologist Jerry Stenger laughs at the mystery presented by the complex terrain.

Appalachia’s mountain ranges run erratically and often surround valleys, which creates uniquely dry microclimates. Stenger explains that high mountain peaks can also lock thunderstorms in an area, releasing large amounts of rainfall and causing flash flooding. Individual storms cannot be directly linked to climate change. But strong rain events, like the one that led to devastating flooding in West Virginia earlier this year, may well become more frequent, says Stenger, and their effects are intensified by mountainous topography.

The mountains’ unique weather patterns make it challenging to predict how global scale warming will affect the region. According to Stenger, while much of Appalachia will see warming, some areas will see cooling or no change at all. “There’s so many uncertainties, but that’s the nature of it,” he says.

Gauging Impacts on Ecosystems

A little shack at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory houses an automated device that measures stream flow every five minutes to assess water levels. Photo by Judy Schoonmaker.

A little shack at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory houses an automated device that measures stream flow every five minutes to assess water levels. Photo by Judy Schoonmaker.

Appalachia’s biodiverse ecosystems harbor species that thrive in its lush, wet forests and provide the region with ecological resilience, a term that refers to a system’s ability to absorb impacts before changing state altogether. But warming is resulting in longer growing seasons and is leading some plants to climb in elevation or move northward. Some rare and important species are at risk from a more unpredictable climate, such as the spruce-fir forests on the tallest mountain peaks, the region’s uncommonly abundant species of salamanders or the prized brook trout.

Even in southern Appalachia, which boasts a rainforest reputation, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows precipitation was below average across most of the region this year. All over the Southeast, droughts are becoming more common and severe, impacting municipal drinking water supplies, many of which are reservoirs fed by watersheds flowing from private or federally owned forest.

At the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in southwestern North Carolina — a nearly 5,000-acre forest designated for experimental research in 1934 — U.S. Forest Service scientists track stream flow within a watershed to better understand how forest changes affect reservoirs. They also monitor climate and forest changes at places like the so-called “Electric Forest,” a section where trees are rigged with monitoring devices to assess their water uptake. Advanced meteorological tools measure the amount of carbon dioxide cycling through the trees and the atmosphere.

In his research at Coweeta, Chris Oishi has found that southern Appalachian forests absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than originally thought. He discovered that the Electric Forest takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil and plant material, ultimately absorbing more carbon than it generates through decomposing trees or disturbed soil — resulting in what is known as a carbon sink. At Coweeta, about 1.1 tons of carbon are sequestered per acre of forest per year, roughly as much carbon dioxide as the emissions of one average car.

Oishi and his colleagues have also found that climate change is lessening the carbon sink potential of forests as warmer, drier years lessen the trees’ ability to absorb carbon. Species transition within an ecosystem also plays a factor. In one example Oishi noted, as the carbon-absorbing hemlock dies out across Appalachia and is replaced by rhododendron, carbon sinks are diminished.

Forested land would need to increase in size in the Southeast in order to keep up with rising carbon dioxide emissions, says Oishi.

One group working to maintain the Southeast’s forest carbon sinks is the Dogwood Alliance, a conservation advocacy group based in Asheville, N.C. The organization’s Carbon Canopy program is working to create a market for the region’s carbon sinks, providing private landowners and corporate partners with financial incentives to help preserve large tracts of forested land.

seed researcher

Joe-Ann McCoy saves seeds and collects data on sochan, an edible coneflower native to Southern Appalachia and part of Cherokee cuisine. Photo courtesy of Joe-Ann McCoy.

Climate change has the potential to increase a forest’s vulnerability to drought. According to Oishi, the dominant species in southern Appalachian forests is shifting from oak and hickory to tulip poplar and maple, most likely due to fire suppression and climate change. These types of trees use more water, lessening streamflow and water supply. Since record keeping began in 1936 at Coweeta, 80 percent of the severe drought cycles have occurred between 1980 and the present.

During a drought, the forest system becomes stressed when trees and plants compete for water. Higher-elevation hardwood coves host valuable medicinal plants that are especially vulnerable to water scarcity. Some species can be killed off in as little as one season, as opposed to trees, which take several years to die from drought.

Joe-Ann McCoy, director of the North Carolina Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository in Asheville, N.C., works to save the seeds of these important plants, such as black cohosh and ginseng. The seed bank at the arboretum is one of the only ones in the country focusing on native medicinal plants. McCoy is looking for varieties resistent to climate change and focusing on projects with people who have long-standing relationships with these plants.

According to McCoy, seed banks are vitally important for helping people adapt to climate change. For the past seven years, McCoy has been partnering with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on seed saving. Like all tribes in the Southeast, the Cherokee do not have any seed banks. But McCoy is hoping to change this. In collaboration with the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, she is helping to establish a program to create seed banks of traditional native and heirloom plants for 26 indigenous tribes.

“We should have already done this 10 years ago,” McCoy says. “Europe is way ahead of us on this.”

Seeding Climate Justice

As social justice and environmental issues more visibly intersect, a solutions-based effort is emerging — climate justice. People who are vulnerable to social and economic challenges are also susceptible to being directly impacted by climate change, such as having fewer resources to rebuild after severe weather events. People in low-income communities are more likely to be impacted by the fossil fuels that cause climate change — such as people who live near power plants. Climate justice aims to address all of these issues at once.

Stan Johnson, co-founder of Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development in Knoxville, Tenn., teaches city residents about shifts they can make to lessen their impact on the climate while also empowering youth from the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

SEEED designed its program to reflect two community concerns: high energy bills and the lack of local, high-paying jobs. Participants in this program are trained in career readiness and complete door-to-door neighborhood education about energy efficiency. SEEED also received a grant for recycling education.

SEEED accomplishment

A SEEED participant is congratulated on completion of a program. Photo courtesy of SEEED.

According to Johnson, the organization’s expertise is reaching people in the community who are not reached by traditional media pathways. “We don’t want it to be just the eco-elite with the solar panels and hybrid cars,” he says. “Bring it down to the everyday person — what they can do.”

Tom Rodd, initiative director of Allegheny Highlands Climate Change Impacts Initiative sees climate change and social justice issues intersecting in low-income communities that are polluted by coal mines. Rodd has educated residents, held conferences, and published reports about climate impacts in Central Appalachia.

West Virginia’s economy is built on fossil fuels including coal, says Rodd, and talking about climate change can be very difficult for people who have mined and extracted these resources for generations. “Nobody told them they were at risk of losing their jobs because of the tiny molecule CO2 that has the potential of destroying the planet,” he says.

Part of the solution, he says, is to financially support these communities and fight for a more just transition away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy. He speaks in broad terms about what is at stake: the loss of fish habitats and forests, and increased flooding and more frequent heat waves. He has had the most success with teachers and students, the least success with politicians. In West Virginia, he says, “it’s an adjustment process for everybody.”

During canvassing, SEEED invites the community to an energy efficiency workshop. Photo courtesy of SEEED

During canvassing, SEEED invites the community to an energy efficiency workshop. Photo courtesy of SEEED

Allegheny Highlands is now focusing primarily on climate change education for teachers. Rodd’s generation helped create the problem, he says, but it will be up to the next generation to fix it.

To avert climate chaos, Jodi Lasseter, founder and co-convener of the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit, encourages a culture shift achieved by developing authentic relationships across differences, such as race, age and gender. The summit, in its third year, unites high school students, community organizers and nonprofit changemakers from across the state. The groups learn from and inspire each other to “reform, resist, reimagine and re-create the societal systems that constructed fossil fuel-induced climate change,” says Lasseter.

The event, held in Browns Summit, N.C., gives attention to those who are directly impacted by fossil fuels. Last year, a member of Walnut Cove, N.C., which is polluted by coal ash, participated in a frontline community panel.

With the increasing threat of climate change, ecological resilience is important for Appalachia’s biologically sensitive areas. The ability of the region to develop solutions relies on the strength of its scientific and grassroots communities. According to Lasseter, it’s critical that those who are not on the front lines of climate impact stand in solidarity.

“We want to reclaim our people power to take collective action,” she says.

2016 State Legislatures on Climate Change

North Carolina: This year saw the sunset of a state tax credit for renewable energy, and state regulators rejected a petition that would have increased access to solar power by allowing companies other than Duke Energy to finance solar panel installations.

Virginia: Although the legislature blocked the Clean Power Plan’s implementation in the state, the governor issued an executive order for state agencies to develop carbon reduction strategies by spring 2017.

West Virginia: The legislature defeated an effort to repeal the state’s adoption of national science education standards that include climate change, but adopted curriculum changes that downplay the link between climate change and human causes.

Kentucky: A new law establishes a prescribed fire burn program set to begin by summer 2017. Prescribed burns imitate historical forest management and diminish wildfire risk, which is increasing with climate change, according to USFS scientists.

Tennessee: Under a new law, farmers now have greater protection to open Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, even if they are deemed a public or private nuisance. These massive livestock operations are significant sources of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Alabama Coal Company Sued for Water Pollution and Other Shorts

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

Alabama Coal Company Sued for Water Pollution

On Sept. 1, conservation groups announced a lawsuit against Drummond Company for acid runoff from its abandoned Maxine Mine into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River near Praco, Ala. The suit was brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center, Public Justice and Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the newest member of The Alliance for Appalachia. — Elizabeth E. Payne

Petition to Pause Nuke Plant

In a petition to the State Corporation Commission, the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council argued that Dominion Virginia Power must obtain a permit before proceeding with any further construction of a nuclear reactor at the North Anna Power Station. The $19 billion project has not been approved by regulators and, although it is included in Dominion’s long-term plan, the utility has not committed to bringing the reactor into service. Nearly $600 million has already been spent on preliminary construction, half of which has been passed on to Virginia ratepayers. — Brian Sewell

Duke Energy’s 15-year Plan

In its 15-year plan released in September, Duke Energy Carolinas projected a 1 percent growth in electricity demand. But between now and 2030, the company predicts a tripling of solar capacity and the continued displacement of coal-fired electricity by natural gas. Due to the uncertainty of fuel prices and future regulations, the plan analyzes the possibility of a new nuclear facility in upstate South Carolina.— Brian Sewell

Price of Met Coal Rises

Bucking the nationwide trend, Kentucky-based Ramaco Development, LLC, announced in September that it will begin operations next year at two mines in West Virginia and Virginia. Both mines will produce metallurgical coal used to manufacture steel. After a steep drop in 2015, global prices for metallurgical coal have rebounded in recent months largely, due to demand in China. But it’s not clear how many cash-strapped mining companies in Central Appalachia will benefit from the market’s shift.— Brian Sewell

Spill Leads to Gas Shortages

A pipeline supplying transportation fuel to much of the Southeast ruptured in September, spilling 338,000 gallons of gasoline in Alabama. Most of the gasoline collected in a man-made retention pond at a nearby strip mine, which minimized the impact to the Cahaba River system. But fuel shortages affected drivers in five states. On Sept. 21, Colonial Pipeline announced that service has been restored as cleanup continues.

Feds Account for Climate Change

A new guidance from the White House Council of Environmental Quality requires that federal agencies consider how their actions will influence climate change and how climate change will impact their actions.

N.C. Closer to Wind Energy

In August, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it will lease more than 122,000 acres off the North Carolina coast for commercial wind energy development.

Natural Gas CO2 Emissions Rise

Although natural gas releases less carbon dioxide than coal when burned, it now accounts for more energy-related carbon dioxide emissions due to major increases in consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Scientists Question Fracking Safety

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board is challenging a draft report by the agency that found little negative impact on drinking water from hydraulic fracturing. In a letter sent to the EPA on Aug. 11, the scientists called the report “comprehensive but lacking in several critical areas.”